Keir Radnedge – AIPS Football Delegate
DOHA, November 20, 2022 – Each succeeding World Cup boasts its own unique character, celebrations and controversies, passion and pain. Also a short-timed guest pass for optimism.
Hence the Opening Ceremony before hosts Qatar fell 2-0 to Ecuador in the 2022 opener paraded a suitable theme of “bridging all differences with humanity, respect and inclusion.”
As if to prove the point, Emirs old and new were joined ahead of the action not only by FIFA president Gianni Infantino but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia which, among other matters, had recently led an unneighbourly boycott.
This is what it’s all about – French 1998 champion Marcel Desailly parades the World Cup itself
Infantino would have been delighted to see the hospitable handshakes before proclaiming how “football unites the world… so let the show begin.” Words of intense relief indeed after 12 wearing years of noisy negativity.
Qatar has never been able to escape the context of an award by a world federation in corrupt freefall. Thus football itself – the “most important of the least important things in the world” for Carlo Ancelotti – had the duty of raising a troubled global gaze to the briefly distracting skies of sporting inspiration.
The Qataris were the first hosts since Uruguay at the inaugural World Cup in 1930 never to have appeared previously at the finals and they made an inauspicious start.
They were saved in the third minute by a delayed VAR ruling after the Semi-Automatic Offside Technology denied an opening headed ‘goal’ to Enner Valencia. However, Ecuador’s captain duly made amends in the 14th minute with a penalty after being tripped by the uncertain keeper Saaf Al Sheeb.
Matters did not improve and Valencia headed a second goal in the half hour from a right-wing cross.
Qatar, the Asian Champion but also ranked 50th in the FIFA ranking and their nervy opening did the continent’s game no credit. They struggled to make any sort of inroads into South American territory until the last minute of first-half stoppage time: Almoez Ali headed wide with the goal at his mercy and a majority of the 67,372 crowds poised to party…
In the second half Ecuador, aware of more testing times ahead against Senegal and Netherlands, preferred to keep their powder dry and kill the game. An honourable margin of defeat suited Qatar perfectly and they kept on running to patch up wounded pride.
At least they had made history, good and bad. They were appearing in the finals for the first time but thus became the first hosts to lose an Opening Match. Long before that predictable eventuality half of their fans had drifted away early in hope of avoiding the inevitable traffic jams.